Ally McCoist believes Michael Beale has had a positive start to his Rangers reign and has already closed the gap on Celtic.
The Ibrox side remain nine points behind their city rivals at the top of the cinch Premiership but have won 13 of their 14 league matches since the Englishman replaced Giovanni van Bronckhorst in November.
Beale’s only defeat so far came when Celtic beat Rangers 2-1 in the Viaplay Cup final last month and Gers’ record goal-scorer McCoist believes the two teams are now more closely matched than they were prior to the current manager’s arrival.
“I definitely think the gap’s closed,” he said. “League Cup final, there wasn’t a lot in it, Celtic probably just the better team.
“The league game at Ibrox, Celtic started well but Rangers should have won the game.
“There’s maybe a train of thought that Celtic have slightly got the advantage at this moment in time. But I don’t think the gap’s what it once was.”
The only two games Beale has failed to win have been against Celtic and McCoist feels the derbies have now become more important than ever for both Glasgow clubs, because it is so rare for either of them to drop points against other teams in the league.
“I think Michael has done well,” said McCoist. “I hope he’s given the time – and I’m sure he will – to get a couple of transfer windows behind him where he can make changes and build his own team and his own squad.
“In 14 league games, he’s won 13 and drawn one, which is absolutely excellent. But it’s a fact now that when you’re manager of the Old Firm, the games between the two teams are probably as important as they’ve ever been, maybe even more important, because when you look around the rest of the country, other teams are not taking points off the Old Firm as perhaps they once did.
“To back that up, Motherwell are vastly improved under Stuart Kettlewell, but I don’t think they’ve beaten Rangers in the league for about 20 years. That’s incredible.
“I can remember going to Fir Park and getting a 3-0 beating, and I remember Celtic losing the league at Fir Park. Those days seem a long time ago.
“Celtic lost at St Mirren earlier in the season, but those results are few and far between now. I don’t think it’s great for the league.
“Rangers’ two best performances away from home this season were arguably in Edinburgh, against Hearts and Hibs, and then Celtic went to Tynecastle and were excellent. Bearing that in mind, the importance on the Old Firm games is great, if not greater than it’s ever been.
“I’m not saying they’re the only four games that matter, but they have become so important. Michael Beale is doing a good job but the time will come when he’s got to win Old Firm games.”